Botanical Name: Schlumbergera Bridgesii
Common Name: Christmas Cactus, Holiday Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus
About Christmas Cactus
This ever-popular species is native to the coastal mountain regions of southern Brazil, where it enjoys a subtropical to tropical climate. The plant received its name because of its flowering period in the Northern Hemisphere (between thanksgiving & Christmas). An interesting tidbit to note is that in their native Brazil, located in the southern hemisphere, the Christmas Cactus blooms in the late springtime and is commonly known as Flor de Maio (May flower). The Christmas Cactus is generally an easy to care for houseplant that will last many holiday seasons and grow multiple feet long if given the right care.
The Holiday Cactus loves plenty of bright indirect light. It can handle some direct morning or evening sun but will burn easily if exposed to direct strong afternoon sun. Taking this into consideration the best place for a Christmas Cactus is an east or north-facing window. If you don’t have a space in your east or north-facing windows these plants can also adapt to lower light conditions but they won’t bloom as prolifically. It is also important to avoid direct sun exposure for extended periods of time or during the heat of the afternoon as the leaves of the Christmas cactus will burn.
Despite being a species of the cacti family these plants don’t like or need longer periods of drought. Instead, they require moist soil to grow well. Think of the conditions they are used to in the mountainous subtropical regions of southern Brazil. To mimic these conditions It’s important to make sure that the soil of your Christmas Cactus is consistently moist. This can be achieved by watering the plant every time the top few inches of soil have completely dried.
To avoid any problems arising from overwatering it is important to give your Christmas Cactus a pot with good drainage. It is also important to always empty the saucer of your plant after every watering to avoid waterlogged soil. Waterlogged or wet soil is the main culprit in the death of the Holiday Cactus.
Humidity & Temperature
Preferring high to average humidity levels the Christmas Cactus is a perfect candidate for a spot in your bathroom or kitchen. As it is from a tropical climate (and used to lots of humidity) the higher the humidity the better and more robust this plant will grow. It is best to avoid spots near A/C vents and drafty windows but otherwise, they easily adapt to average indoor humidity levels. It is worth adding that misting daily is highly appreciated and may even help your plants’ flowers last longer when in bloom.
In terms of temperature the Christmas Cacti like it cool, 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit is plenty to keep them happy. While they can also be placed in rooms with higher temperatures they may not bloom as often or prolifically under such conditions. In fact, to get this plant to bloom they need lower nighttime temperatures around 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
No parts of the Christmas Cactus are poisonous/toxic to cats, dogs, or other pets according to the ASPCA.
The fact that these plants are non-toxic makes them an excellent alternative to the more common Christmas Poinsettia for those seeking a blooming holiday plant that is also pet safe.
To trigger your Christmas Cactus to bloom it is important that it gets long, dark nights with a minimum of 12 hours of complete darkness. In combination with the longer nights, the Cactus needs lower nighttime temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit to trigger flower production. After these conditions are given consistently it takes the plant about 6 weeks to produce blooms, so if you want your Holiday Cactus to flower around Christmas it’s best to start giving it lower temperatures and longer nights at the end of October to the beginning of November.
Frequently asked questions
To get your Christmas Cactus to bloom a few conditions need to be created, most importantly is that the plant receives 12 to 14 hours of complete darkness each night. This means placing the plant in a space that will have no artificial lights on during the night. In combination with the long dark nights, the temperature must be between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the night to trigger flowering. After these conditions are given it usually takes between five and seven weeks before the Christmas Cactus is in full bloom. It is also important to remember that under these conditions the plant will require less water than usual, therefore keep a close eye on the moisture level of the soil to avoid problems.
The best way to get your Christmas Cactus to bloom longer is with proper care and daily misting when in bloom. Higher levels of humidity combined with lower temperatures will keep the beautiful blooms from wilting quickly. It is also advisable to prune your plant every time it finishes blooming. To do this correctly cut the cacti right below its spent blooms, this will create a more full appearance of the overall plant as well as encourage more blooms during future flowering cycles.
Christmas Cacti can be propagated like many succulents by cutting a stem section from the plant. It is best to pick a section of the stem that is at least three segments long, remove the chosen segment(s) from your plant, and set them out in a dry location for two to three days to allow the cut to harden off. After the cutting is hardened off it is time to plant it about one inch deep in the soil and place it in a spot that receives lots of bright indirect light. The cutting should root within a few weeks and begin growing new sections within a few weeks to a few months.